Imagine that you are part of a committee in charge of putting together a team for a science competition.

The participants are from all across the country, and you haven't had the chance to meet any team members in person, but they have submitted all of their credentials to you for consideration. You have a record of their past activities, their transcripts, their resumes, and a couple of recommendations from their teachers (whom you've also never met). 

Say that you have one last spot on the team and that you have two excellent candidates to discuss with your committee. On paper, the candidates have similar qualifications. They have taken many of the same classes, they have similar grades, and the cover letters that they've included with their applications make both seem intelligent and friendly.

But then one of them contacts you to see if you have a few minutes to chat.

Because you don't live in the same city, you set up a conversation over Skype. Over the course of fifteen minutes, you ask a couple of questions about the AP Physics course she took last year and the internship she's doing this summer. She asks questions about the competition and what you're looking for in the team members. You even wind up on a quick sidebar about the Netflix show you're both watching.

The next day, you meet with your committee. When it's your turn to present your candidates, which one will you make a more persuasive case for?

A little connection can go a long way.

College admissions counselors want to know their applicants so that they can make the most informed decisions possible about how well those students might fit in.

Every little bit can help. If your admissions counselor knows you on a more personal level, that familiarity can make a stronger case before the committee.

Here are five tips for making a more personal connection with your admissions officials:

  1. Reach out yourself. If you know you'll be applying to a certain college in the fall, jump on the school's website and look up the contact information for their admissions office. Many websites will explicitly tell you which official represents your city or region. If not, call the admissions office general line and ask to speak to that person. CAUTION: DON'T leave this step to Mom and/or Dad!

  2. Show up in person. Most admissions counselors either live in or travel to the regions they represent each fall. Find out if they'll be coming to your high school for an information session. If not, are they doing any other local events, like a college fair? After their presentation, make sure to walk up and introduce yourself. Which brings me to tip #3...

  3. Practice your introduction. Aside from your name and high school, what are one or two things you want your admissions counselor to remember about you? Are you interested in cognitive science? Are you a committed tuba player? Will you be applying to their college early decision? Make sure that your talking points roll off the tongue -- it usually takes some repetition, so practice at home with a friend or parent.

  4. Ask great questions. If you're reaching out to the admissions office for the first time, perhaps you'd like to know if your possible field of study is in high demand and therefore has tougher admissions standards. Maybe you'd like to know how many people are in the program or if you might have a conversation with a faculty member from that department. Maybe you'd just like to introduce yourself to your admissions rep, let them know you'll be applying in the fall, and ask if it would be okay to contact them directly if any questions about the application process come up. IMPORTANT: DON'T ask questions that can be easily answered with a Google search or glance at their website.

  5. Remember that they want to know and help you. Don't be shy. It is perfectly okay to express your interest in a college directly or even to say that you simply wanted to put a face with your name. It's not cheating or gaming the system; it's about showing professionalism and an understanding of how this system works. That said, be mindful of the fact that college reps have very busy schedules, be concise, and make sure to show your gratitude for their generosity with a thank-you note.